In defense of (the sports fans of) my adopted City of Brotherly Love

So the Philadelphia Eagles won the NFC championship game last night over the Minnesota Vikings in an unexpected outcome, or at least in unexpected fashion, rolling off 38 unanswered points after spotting Minnesota an opening touchdown.

But this isn’t about that.

What I do want to talk about is the slant the media coverage is putting on the Philadelphia fans, and what I think is a fundamental flaw of our media today.

First of all, let’s set the scene.  If you were to believe some coverage, you could be forgiven if you thought that sporting events in Philadelphia were nothing but tune-ups for mass civic chaos. People attend sporting events, but the *real* show is the idiocy that takes place in the streets of Philadelphia after the game, win or lose. Hide the women and children, lock your doors, those Philly fans are at it again.

Now, I am not for a second denying that there are knuckleheads in Philadelphia, and sure, maybe we have more than our share. But the VAST MAJORITY of fans in this town are passionate, law-abiding fans who get excited about their teams, especially when they do REALLY well, as the Iggles did last night. But that doesn’t make as good a story as “there they go again, those boorish Philly fans.”

And just so you know where I’m coming from, I’m not even a native Philadelphian, like my wife. We moved here in 1991, moved away for 3 years, and have been back since the late 90’s, so I think I feel safe calling it my “adopted” hometown. And while I might not have the history, I have roughly two decades of experience in the Philly sports scene, and I feel like I know it pretty well. Trust me, they’re not that bad.

While we lived away from Philly in the 90’s, there was an incident at the Army-Navy game at Veterans Stadium involving a collapsed railing. Unfortunately some army cadets were hurt. But the coverage in our local paper (again, not in Philly) took the tone of “another incident with Philadelphia sports fans…”  Really?  Last time I checked, neither service academy was anywhere near Philly, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story!

But that was just one incident.

Probably the most famous incident is that Philly fans booed and threw snowballs at Santa Claus. OK, fair point. But that was in 1968.  Trust me, we did a lot of things in this country in 1968 that we weren’t too proud of, I’m not sure the Santa thing makes the Top 10. It might be time to let this one go, considering it took place 50 (50!!!) years ago. While we’re at it, I’d like to apologize to the Hessians for that whole thing with Washington crossing the Delaware.  No hard feelings, right fellas?

And that incident and others leads to that sort of behavior now being expected out of Philly fans, and includes things like the Philadelphia police applying Crisco to the light poles on Broad Street. Again, they did this for a reason, because some idiots climbed the light poles when the Phillies won the whole enchilada in 2008. But again, a small minority in a population of 1.5 million, and 6 million if you count the surrounding metro area.

So why does this idea persist?

Good question, me.  Well, I think the answer is simple, and also depressing. It is now an “accepted narrative,” and I don’t think it gets more complex than that. Most media today (and as a former member of the Fourth Estate I feel I have some standing) is accused of bias, having an agenda, or some other form of “fake news.” What a bunch of crap.  Media (and it is really hard to generalize) is made of human beings, with human motivations.  They are also squeezed for time/budgets/eyeballs/clicks, and are slowly being marginalized and “disrupted” (God I hate that word) out of their business. They also know that people generally like reading stories that affirm their pre-conceived notions.  Hmm, you see where I’m going with this?

Stories about obnoxious Philadelphia sports fans are popular because everyone thinks Philadelphia sports fans are obnoxious (the snake eating its own head). It’s just easier, and a helluva lot more expedient, to give the people what they want, rather than challenging the status quo or, heaven forbid, providing nuance.

Finally, let’s say there are jerks in Philly who are sports fans. Do you think we have the market cornered?  There are boorish fans everywhere, because (and you might want to sit down for this) there are boorish people everywhere. For God’s sake, our friends from Canada have a reputation for bending over backwards and being polite (sorry, oh sorry), so when they rioted and burned cars after the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup finals, it made news, but it didn’t really affect their reputation.

And this is not to blame other cities.  They are cities, so by definition today they have a concentration of people, and sports teams. People go to sporting events, they are passionate, they have a few pops, and it’s a pretty wicked combo. Rioting after championship games (or series) is actually fairly common. San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, etc. And those nice guys and gals from Minnesota sure didn’t have a problem defacing a local landmark with their purple and gold.  All in good fun though, right?

But for some reason, Philly seems to get singled out.

The result is stories that say “Eagles Fans Riot in the Streets” above a series of videos of people high-fiving, hugging, and singing “Fly Eagles, Fly” to each other in the streets. If there was a riot, I sure as heck missed it.

Am I biased? Sure I am. But so are you. And so is everyone.

I love my adopted hometown, and I feel like I understand the passionate fans who have ached for this kind of success for the Eagles, who hold a special place in this town’s heart. I’m not saying we’re all perfect, and I’m sure as heck not saying that 100% of Philly sports fans are well-behaved. But from a numbers perspective, it’s not even close.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some Molotov cocktails to prepare.  That Super Bowl is just around the corner.  — Jabin



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